fish backs and cheeks

High rollas... movers, shakers.  Move over old skool.
I don’t know what’s going on, but Taiwan is starting to piss me off. No, not Taiwan – but the headaches that I get every damn morning on this trip. I think I can attribute it to the fact that the hotel (and all public places really) allow smoking. My floor on the hotel, and my room, smell like cigarette smoke – and sleeping each night in there is really wreaking havoc on my sinuses. I wake up each morning with a killer headache that takes hours to shake, and I’m nearly out of Excedrin. I didn’t have this problem on the last trip, so I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe it’s a combo of the jet lag and smoke, or something. But ugh, it’s really putting a damper on my daily activities. Coming from California, where public smoking is all but outlawed – I don’t think my sinuses are used to it anymore. So, as long as I’m complaining, I didn’t get enough sleep last night – and woke up this morning not feeling right in the belly. Now I’m sitting here with a pounding headache and sleepy brain, whatever. I actually feel like I could be getting sick… makes me wanna check the symptoms of bird flu. I mean, the chicken-heads, y’know…

Again today was a fun day for food. I’m getting pretty used to eating animals while they stare up at me from the plate. In America I guess we don’t like to see the animal “form” of the meat we’re eating: our chicken is in breasts, wings, and thighs; our fish is in fillets and breaded sticks; and in general the food we eat doesn’t look like the animals we killed to get it. Here it’s totally different. When you eat some meat (seafood or turffood) it looks like it was just walking along and fell into the deep-fry or oven before getting to your plate. At first it’s a jump to just bite into the back of a whole fish, but after you realize that the taste is the same it gets easier. I was seriously crunching down on some fish backs and cheeks today, because really… who cares if it still looks like a fish or chicken, either way I’m eating dead flesh. They keep telling me I’m unusual in that aspect, and that most white-boys are squeamish about horking down some crazy whole-animals. Whatever, I think I’m just a practiced eater – bones, skin, and faces fear me – not the other way around. If it don’t taste like poo, I’ll eat it up. And even if it does taste like poo, I’ll try it once to find out.

While presenting to the fellas here in Taiwan, it’s very evident that the society (and even corporate society) is very much hierarchal. There may be twenty to thirty bodies in a room for a presentation, but only one or two individuals will speak for the group. Even if you question the directly, only the highest seniority folks reply. It makes it kind of hard to solicit feedback about some things, since some folks won’t even speculate on things which they may be familiar with – all because there is a more senior person in the room and it would be usurping their authority to answer. So you’ve got thirty people, twenty-eight mutes and two who can speak at will. I know a lot of it has to do with the language barrier, but it also helps to break out into a separate room with certain lower-level but knowledgeable folks so they don’t feel like they’re doing anyone some dishonor by directly answering questions. See, you just got a lesson in marketing to Taiwanese companies – take note.

Tonight I finally met up with Ben again, our schedules have been off just enough to miss hanging out each night. We met down at the bar for beer and cigars, nice Cubans – no trade embargoes here. We marveled at our luck, two young jet-setting yuppies having drinks and cigars in a swanky bar while a string quartet plays in the background and people that don’t we don’t understand bring us nuts to eat. Hells yeah, international playboys… or something. The week is going by incredibly fast, and there’s still no word on a possible extended trip to Shanghai – but I’m doubtful since I’d need a visa and haven’t got one yet. Who knows.

OK, I’m done for the night. Gonna watch the rest of this crazy fake “Tales of the Crypt”-ish movie on Cinemax and hit the sack. Dude, I just found the webpage that shows what this horrid Asian Cinemax lineup is like, check it out. Dave outta here.

the smell is stuck in my mouth

Well-fed white-boy.
Today was another interesting day in Taiwan. I suppose it goes without saying that I have some “shit I ate” updates. Well, I tried frog legs for the first time – and yeah, they totally taste like chicken. Chinese cuisine is very good, but also very odd to a westerner in some aspects. At lunch today, one of the courses consisted of half a papaya, which had been partly hollowed out, stuffed with mushrooms, topped with cheese, and baked. It may sound crazy, but it tasted great. Who would have known that papaya, mushrooms, and cheese could taste so good together. We also had some cold salad that I, at first, thought was comprised of tiny vegetables – but upon closer inspection realized was actually a bunch little dried fish. Kinda like tiny anchovies or something, heads and all. But man, I ate those little things up – they were awesome tasting. Funny that even the pizzas delivered from Pizza Hut come with shrimp and squid toppings.

There’s plenty of “normal” western food here, but I love trying the local fare. More often than not it’s awesome. The only thing I’ve found that I don’t really like are the broth-based soups which they tend to serve with a meal. Basically they simmer a whole bunch of different seafood in water, and then only serve the broth – sometimes with a couple sprigs of grass on top. So essentially what you’re eating is warm fish-water. I decidedly don’t dig this. Let’s see, I also tried something called “mantis prawns,” some kind of fierce piranha-looking fish, and even what the Taiwanese call “stinky ‘toh.'” Stinky “toh” is what they call stinky tofu (I took some spelling license on the word “toh” and just wrote it like it sounds). Oh man, they told me about stinky toh last time I was here, when while wandering through the night market I asked: “What is that stinky smell!?” Turns out it’s just really old tofu that’s either fried or boiled. I thought maybe it only smelled bad, but it really tastes like it smells – stinky. It’s like the smell is stuck in my mouth and I can’t get it out. Ugh.



Looks scary, but was mad tasty.



Mmmm…. fried chicken heads.

During lunch they serve several different kinds of tea, and they usually bring out ornate little teapots and cups for each person. You also get a dish of warm tea to rinse your fingers in after a pungent seafood meal that is eaten with the hands. Today, I was checking out the little teapot that the after-meal green tea was served in. One of the Chinese-speakers with us explained that the characters on the pot were the names of the “four most beautiful Chinese women.” Once he saw that I was interested, he explained more – with all the other native Taiwanese in the room helping to explain. Seems that in school, as part of history, they are taught about the four most beautiful Chinese women. They can all name each woman. It’s hearing about and reading about things like this that fascinate me when I’m here. Even the news is so much different, there are stories about how certain political candidates will probably not get elected because it’s not a compatible year for them, or the particular god of something is unhappy with them. Fortune tellers are everywhere and much stock is placed in what Americans would call superstition and hocus-pocus.

Boss-man asked me today if I’d be willing to extend my trip for a few days and head to Shanghai after leaving Taiwan. While I wouldn’t mind, and I do really want to see Shanghai – I miss home and mostly Sharaun. Also I think we have a show (Notwist) shortly after I was supposed to return this week which an extension may cause me to miss. Anyway, it’s all subject to management approval – so there’s no reason to worry too much at this point I suppose. If I go I go.

I’ve been picking up more and more bits of Mandarin. I can do some rough counting now, mostly “shopping” math and bargaining. I can count to ten which is pretty much all I need to recognize most numbers. I can recognize certain phrases like “no problem,” and “that one,” “over there,” etc. I’m also pretty decent at piecing together a conversation from tone or a word or two I understand. It’s a really cool language, and I think I’d really like to learn to speak it. Man would it be a great skill to have for work, not only something fun to learn. If I could be around it as much as I am daily here, I think I could pick up on basic conversational speech fairly quick.

OK I am totally dead tired, as it’s midnight here and 8am my time US. Dave out.

congealed lamb patties

Knee how.  Shea shea.
I didn’t blog on Thursday because I upgraded my blog software and broke the formatting, I didn’t blog Friday because I was in the air headed to Taiwan. Well, now I’m in Taiwan and I downgraded the blog software and got my formatting back – so I have no excuses.

It’s hard to imagine a place as technologically advanced as Taipei, but still so busted. These guys design and manufacture some of the world’s leading-edge stuff, but they live in places that Americans would condemn as un-livable. Maybe they just don’t place much stock in “aesthetics,” ’cause this place definitely looks broke-down. There is so much artistic talent here, evident in the ornate temples and some buildings – but the majority looks like a slum (at least as seen through my land-of-milk-and-honey American eyes). Without dogging it too much, it’s a lot like any other big city. There’s a lot to manage, and I guess a lot falls by the wayside. Some places look great, others don’t. They do have a great subway system, and the tallest building in the world – so it ain’t all bad.

I’ve had a blast since being here. Some guy almost passed out on me on the flight over. About 2hrs out of Tokyo he decided he was gonna have a “medical emergency.” Without going into the whole story, we ended up making a really rapid descent into the airport with a prioritized landing and taxi – at which point paramedics boarded the plane and took the sick dude away. Paramedics and authorities in Japan remind me of Lego-people, blocky and rigid with bright primary-colored outfits. Anyway, it kinda spiced up the 15hr flight, which was, this time, much worse than what I remember from my last trip. Got in late, slept the best I could being 16 hours out of sync, and spent Sunday shopping and sight-seeing in the rain.

As always, the food has been interesting. On Sunday, Ben was keeping a photo-journal of all the meals we ate (I think it was Pat’s idea). So far I’ve eaten jellyfish, congealed lamb patties, shark-fin soup, some kind of orange “organ” served inside a scallop shell, and a barely-dead lobster. And actually, all of it was really good. The shark-fin soup surprised me, because I’ve always thought it would be disgusting – but it was actually quite good. They make the broth with other fish and crab meat, but the fin is the main attraction – kinda funny since I thought it was the least tasty part of the dish. We had the lobster at a teppin place where they cook in front of you. They brought out some whole lobsters which had been recently cut in half lengthwise. When the chef put them on the grill they were still moving. He cooked them very briefly and then served them up, orange-gook (which I think is brains and stuff) and all. The jellyfish, while a tad rubbery, was really awesome – I think it was pickled. They served it cold on a salad. If you’re not a seafood person, Taiwan is not for you. I mean, it’s an island, so it’s to be expected I suppose. Almost everything at least features seafood, there’s fish on the salad, there’s fish in the pasta, and even non-fishy things are often flavored with fish sauce. They also eat a lot more fruit than we do. There’s fresh fruit with every meal, either as a dessert or as garnish. I like that.

I haven’t had a lot of hotel-room time, but while I’m here I mostly surf the net and watch the Cartoon Network, since it’s in English and all. Cinemax is also in English, but the movies they play are super ghetto. Not just old, but like made-for-TV movies from the 80’s that just plain stink. I’m not sure if American stuff takes a long time to get here or what, but the driver that picked us up from the airport was playing a Lionel Richie CD that I think came out when I was five? you know, the one where Lionel all of the sudden got an accent and sang “Fiesta” or whatever. Yeah, try listening to that after 24hrs of travel, ugh. I never really realized how many singles old Lionel actually had from that album, musta been a breakthrough for him. If Germans love David Hasselhoff, then Taiwanese love Deep Purple. For real, two separate people at the customer site today asked me if I saw Deep Purple when they played in San Fran recently. Nope, missed it.

I wish I knew how to speak Mandarin, it sounds like such a cool language. I’m limited to “thank you,” “how much?,” and “restroom?” though. Oh, and “beer,” I can ask for beer. The people here have a lot of history, and a lot of beliefs that seem strange to a white boy like me. Just simple things like the thought that modeling buildings after turtles will make them more earthquake-proof, because turtles (and apparently buildings that look like them) have long lives. Like the rows and rows of fortune tellers who employ all sorts of different methods to make readings, from scattering rice to reading palms. But really, it’s no more silly than the customs of other people I guess – just more pronounced when you’re thrown into it all.

OK, I’m out for now. I’ve taken a bunch of great pictures since getting here – and I’ll try and upload some tonight if I get the chance. Until then, Dave is out.

spam cometh now

I don't care, I still think it tastes good.
Listening to The Radio Dept.’s Lesser Matters while I watch the streetlights snap on one by one, I’m sitting in the only lit room in my dark house. This album is perfect, a great winter album – cold and rainy. I’ve been alternating between this one and The Dears’ No Cities Left, which does OK as a winter album – but has a more “summer” tone at the core if you ask me. Both are well worth checking out, and as always I’m willing to send copies to whomever asks. The Dears are playing with the Stars sometime in the coming months, and I’ve been debating going more and more as the album latches onto my brain. We’re booked with Noise Pop and there have been rumblings about Coachella… so I’m not sure what the future concert landscape looks like right now. In the coming months, we are lucky enough to be taking in the following: The Notwist, The Unicorns, The Decemberists, Vanderslice, Pedro the Lion, The Wrens, Earlimart, and bunch of openers I’ve never heard of.

An era of sorts came to an end sometime last week. Seems like the spammers finally got ahold of my primary e-mail address. Up until now, all my efforts to keep my address off the web and out of the hands of spammers seemed to be working. Before last week I’d enjoyed three spam-free years of e-mail. I’ve always used my hotmail address for any web-related sign-up or registration, reserving my pharaohweb.com address for only direct communication with known people and places. Whenever I published my address on my websites, I always used JavaScript code to assemble the html mailto: string on the fly from substrings, so that any web-scouring robots couldn’t do a “mailto:” grep and extract it.

While my efforts seemed to have worked for a while, sometime last week my e-mail must have been sold and sold again. I’m now averaging about ten to fifteen pieces of spam per day. I’d like to thank all the webscription shops who are willing to sell me cheap herbal viagra, the online universities willing to grant me an MBA in three short weeks, the testimonials from people who lost 80lbs from some secret Egyptian mineral, and last but not least the well-represented penis-enlargement lobby, who by all means are soliciting the wrong well-hung gentleman. I’ve decided that I will send a grainy black and white photograph of my horse-sized-member to each and every one of these misguided marketeers in the hopes they will leave me alone once they realize they’re clearly barking up the wrong tree. Tree indeed.

Anyway, in an effort to combat the twenty-some pieces of spam I’ve been getting daily, I started looking for some blocker software. I’ve never really looked into it before, because I’ve never had a problem with spam. My Pop had mentioned that he just did a $20 trial of some shareware that was working great – but I’m all about freeware whenever possible. After a relatively short search I landed on Spambayes. It’s a freeware plugin for Outlook that uses Bayesian filtering to identify and trash potential spam. It builds a database and gets smarter as it goes, but I found it worked 100% of the time with little or no “training.” Plus, I like that it’s a simple Outlook plugin and not a standalone app, less overhead. So if you’re getting spammed to death, check it out – took care of my problem for sure.

That’s it for now. Remind me to write down the story of how Sharaun locked me out of the house tomorrow. Dave out.

lost in cyberspace

The original sin.
Ever since I being a teenager, I can remember being interested in religion. No one religion in particular, just religion and theology in a historical sense. I find myself fascinated with the various ways mankind dealt with the unknown throughout history. How beliefs developed, how they theological issues affected culture at the time, and just the sheer amount of beliefs and ideas that are out there. I routinely try and trace the branches in the family tree of religious and philosophical thought, going back to the “beginning” and working forward through names like Hermes, Zoroaster, Plato, etc. There are so many interesting insights that can be made into how certain lines of thinking either came to prominence or got squashed. It’s not just age-old religion and philosophy that I enjoy, I also enjoy reading up on the more modern developments. Everything from Mormonism to Scientology, and as far-reaching as modern Freemasonry and Extreme-Right Militia nuts. There are nuggets of wisdom to be found in all of them I guess, even if they are the Berenstain Bears “what not to do” kind. Example? While reading about post- and pre-Christian Gnostic thought, I found a very interesting redux of the Gnostic creed: “Gnostics do not seek salvation from sin, but instead seek to escape ignorance, believing that sin is merely a consequence of ignorance.” Sounds relatively right to me.

Thanks to the great free online encyclopedia Wikipedia for all the reference links in the above paragraph.

The creepiest thing happened the other day at work. I got a phone call from what I think was my dad’s cell phone. However, instead of my dad on the other end, it was a kind of radio-static sound, like someone switching stations. There were several voices talking over each other at first, and I couldn’t make out much. After a couple minutes the signal cleared up and I could hear a child’s voice reciting a list of dates. It sounded like a little girl, and she was just reading dates: “January 15th, January 26th, August 12th, etc.” She read dates for about 5 minutes (I copied most of them down in case it was a message about my future or something). As the call went on, it became clear that the child was talking to her mother, and I could eventually hear a woman replying. I heard some brief talk about money and insurance. Finally I decided that my dad must’ve inadvertently called me from what I figure was most likely the pharmacy. So Pop, either you’re gonna get a huge cell phone bill for accidentally calling me and not knowing it – or I got some freaky Twilight Zone call from the future, with some child letting me know important dates-to-come. Weird.

So, to kinda follow up on the whole Super Bowl thing, some news outlets are carrying a story about how TiVo says the halftime show “wardrobe malfunction” was the most replayed TV event in the company’s history. Now, call me dumb – but I didn’t know TiVo was tracking my viewing habits. I don’t remember signing any kind of agreement about that, although I’m sure it’s in some EULA somewhere that I “accepted” by getting their service. Seems strange that they can just watch and monitor what I watch and when, even to a level of detail to see what I rewind and pause the most? Big brother truly is watching. Although I try to watch as little TV as possible, I have found that TiVo has totally changed my habits. I no longer “have” to see anything, I just record it and watch it when I want. If something sounds even remotely interesting, why not record it and check it out at my leisure? I can always fast-forward through it or erase it. Plus, jumping through commercials makes the whole thing that much more rad.

Reading another of the online journals I keep up with, I found this “President Match” test. By answering the questions (it’s pretty short), you can see which candidate is most compatible with your thinking based on where they stand on the issues. When I took the test, Bush scored dead last with 55% commonality with my answers. Edwards was 100% aligned with my answers, and Kerry was 98% aligned. Kind of an interesting survey in that it really boiled down some major issued to nice, pointed questions. There was a lot of stuff on there that I really have no opinion on, like some of the Medicare and prescription drug coverage stuff, as well as things that I’m just ignorant about like NAFTA and certain aspects of foreign trade.

Looking at the questions and issues the survey covered, you can really see a dichotomy in the thinking that must be prevalent here in the US. While it’s never as simple as black or white, there are just some issues that will never be decided: abortion, capital punishment, religion, etc. They will always be fiercely opposed to each other and almost certainly never be able to find a happy medium. It seems the US is still a pretty conservative country on average, with things like a national furor over the Super Bowl halftime show showing just how not ready we are, as a country, for that type of display. Whereas in Europe, soap operas show more than that on a daily basis.

I’m not saying that all conservative viewpoints are wrong, nor am I allying myself with all liberal ideals. Hell, for the most part I don’t really care that much – but I know a nut when I see one, and I can spot a crazy idea, liberal or conservative, fairly easily. Politics aren’t really my cup of tea, but I do respect the fact that I can play a role in how things go by voting. While my prevailing attitude towards politics is one of apathy and “who cares,” I do try and keep abreast of things so I can at least know what’s going on. I guess that’s better than most of the Reality TV generation coming up now. Sorry Reality TV generationers, but it’s my duty as your senior to look down upon you as the eventual downfall of this world. Because as we all know, each generation’s junior generation is always taking this world to hell in a handbasket? it’s just your lot. Prove me wrong.

Well, I had some other stuff written which I e-mailed to myself, but it has apparently gotten lost in cyberspace. Guess I can post it tomorrow instead. Dave out.

money and sex are all that matters

What could possibly be more offensive?!
Super Bowl was good, Janet Jackson’s teat was a surprise (link might be NSFW, and I don’t typically like Drudge, but he’s got a good article this time), but leave it up to MTV to come up with the halftime show and you’re bound to get a heaping helping of degenerate bullshit. Sometimes I wonder what the hell my kids will listen to on the radio. I’m sure that this generation’s parents thought the same thing when they heard controversial songs back in their day. But man, songs are so blunt now, just getting right down to the point that money and sex are all that matters – how much more can we debase ourselves? Following the current trend, I would guess that my kids will be listening to tunes with words much like a Penthouse Forum letter. Because really, that’s the only “next level” there is to take it to, right? Instead of clever code words or bleeps, they’ll just sing outright about clits and dicks and all manner of genitalia. I mean, how much does bleeping the word “throat” in a lyric about someone’s deep throat skills really obscure what’s being said? “…how I make a Sprite can disappear in my mouth?.” Yeah, that’s a real song.

Got plenty of sleep last night, which is a welcome change from staying up till all hours for no apparent reason. We were in bed by 10pm and it was awesome. It was one of those nights where I woke up a couple times and expected to look over at the clock to discover I only had a few more minutes of sleep, only to be shocked to see it’s only midnight. I love nights like that, where it seems like you’re sleeping for so much longer. I felt rested this morning when I woke up, but that didn’t make me want to come into work any more. I like work enough when I’m here, but it’s hard to leave in the morning, being warm and comfortable at home, imagining a day spent reading or working around the house or just being lazy. I’m tempted each day to use the “telecommuting” cover story to take a day back from the man. I don’t really ever do it, and when I have done it in the past I never make the day as productive as I’d hoped I would when I made the decision to not go in.

I watched a cool show on the Discovery, or one if the other indistinguishable “learning” channels, the other day about the NYC subway system. They went into details about how they service the cars and stuff, it was really interesting. I find the idea of a network of tunnels and trains moving the populous around really interesting. One thing they showed is what happens when a subway car is beyond maintenance and needs to be retired. The things are loaded onto a freight barge and hauled out to somewhere off the eastern coast, then dumped overboard into the ocean to become “artificial reefs.” The whole “artificial reef” concept is kinda fishy to me (ugh, excuse the pun). What I mean is, sounds like some flowery speech to take the place of “dumping trash in the ocean.” Hey, what a great idea. We don’t have to look at it if it’s in the ocean! Pile it in! I dunno, I’m admittedly ignorant on the details… but I bet we dump tons and tons of refuse in the ocean every day. I’m not trying to get all Greenpeace on your ass or anything, it was just interesting to me.

Taiwan in four days. For now, Dave out.

falling asleep on the couch together

Marianne was waaay hotter than Ginger.
Since I’ll be walking these streets in about a week, I found this article both hilarious and relevant. I hope they get that cleaned up by the time I’m over there. I was just thinking about the amount of human engineering that it must take to get a freakin’ dead whale off the beach and strapped to a flatbed truck. If you’re like me and gave up reading that article before you reached the end, you missed the best part. Seems the Taiwanese, males in particular, are flocking to the dead whale to witness the size of it’s penis. I dunno, that sounds really odd to me. I can’t imagine calling up a buddy and being like, “Hey I’m going downtown to check out this dead whale’s huge dick, you wanna go?” Strange.

Listening the The Dears (disable your popup blocker if you get an empty page), an excellent album that perfectly suits my mood right now. I’ve been bummed this week, don’t really know what for. I feel like I’m stretched a little bit, overcommitted to things. Funny things is, the things I’m overcommitted to aren’t “work,” they’re play. The point is, I haven’t left myself anytime to sit at home and do nothing. Nothing is something which is extremely desirable to me. Usually when I get to feeling weighed down like this, I’ll “escape” to a weekend of camping or a trip to my folks’ place. But for some reason, lately I’ve felt strained.

I honestly just want to run away with my wife and leave everything behind, if only for a few days. I need some time with her. This Taiwan trip looming in the near future doesn’t make me more optimistic about that happening either. We’re both just so busy it’s hard to get any quality time together. I miss just falling asleep on the couch together, with nothing to do. Sometimes a Gilligan’s Island scenario seems awesome to me. I mean, if I had to be stranded on an island I’d sure want it to be one where I can make peddle-power do everything from laundry to mix drinks. Plus, the Globetrotters and cosmonauts would almost balance out the Most Dangerous Game hunters and crazy natives. Face it, Gilligan’s Island was awesome. Yeah, Sharaun and I, Gilligan’s Island style… bring it on.

From my journal, Nov. 13th, 1995: “I wish I had more time to do nothing. If I won the lottery I could retire and spend all my time writing every tiny detail of my incredibly mundane life down in a book or on a computer like this.” Guess I’ve been writing about that for a while now!

Dave out.